The fact that the company – which has more than 230 retail locations in eight states with annual sales of more than $8 billion – is employee-owned means everyone from the front office down to the checkout line is completely invested in making the company successful. Edeker says the company shares profits and responsibilities with its employees, giving them the autonomy and empowerment to provide the best customer service in the industry.
Giving its employees the ability and encouragement to make decisions for themselves – as well as giving them a stake in the company’s success – helps Hy-Vee stay in touch with its customers and understand their shopping habits. “One of the things that makes us different is keeping up with customer lifestyles,” Edeker says. “I think our culture is very agile and we’re able to adapt quickly to local needs.”
Among the ways Hy-Vee is reacting to emerging trends is by expanding its offerings to help promote healthier eating, because people are increasingly interested in eating better. Edeker says Hy-Vee’s produce departments carry between 1,200 and 1,400 different items on average, and the company employs more than 180 certified dieticians at the store level to help customers plan their meals and make healthier choices.
This type of direct contact with customers is very important to Hy-Vee because of the many competitors that have entered the grocery marketplace in recent years. Edeker says as the grocery sector becomes more segmented, Hy-Vee faces pressure from all sides in terms of price, convenience and other factors. “Even home improvement stores are carrying food now,” he says. “There’s a never-ending flow of opportunities to buy similar products.”
Hy-Vee continues to find new ways to set itself apart from the rest of the pack, however, and Edeker says there are a number of exciting initiatives in effect that should give the company a greater hold on the market. One of these is the expansion of the company’s foodservice offerings, which Edeker says has been a part of Hy-Vee for more than 50 years but is taking a new form through its new Market Grille and Market Café concepts. These full-service sit-down restaurants are connected to Hy-Vee stores but remain separate, featuring a full menu as well as full bar service. “That’s very unique to any store that I’ve ever seen,” Edeker says.
Edeker says the company also has embraced social media in a big way, which only makes sense considering how important Hy-Vee considers interacting with its customers. “Customers are completely astonished when we’re back within minutes of a posting on social media,” he says.
Also helping the company’s position is the up-front way in which Hy-Vee supports the communities in which it does business. In addition to local charities, Hy-Vee donates to charitable organizations such as the Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund, the American Red Cross and Variety – The Children’s Charity. “We’re a strong part of the center of every community that we’re in,” Edeker says.
Being the best of the best isn’t simply a goal for Hy-Vee – it’s a necessity. Edeker says that even though the company continues to be mentioned in the same breath as some of the nation’s most successful companies, it never stops looking for ways to improve. “There’s just no room for mediocrity at any point,” he says.